March 1 2014
The release of the new movie Son of God, which attempts to tell the story of Jesus’ life, prompted an interesting debate on Forbes on Fox this morning: “Is Hollywood taking a turn to the right?”
I tend to be one who is slightly more forgiving of Hollywood. No doubt some of the leading celebrities of the day have inserted themselves into the political conversation, often condoning disastrous policy prescriptions. Still there are many, many movies made and the actors, themes, and values are hardly one-dimensional.
Nevertheless if Hollywood wants to court more viewers on the right, it’s not necessarily going to be done through a social lens. Rather, there is an economic issue that has the potential to generate a fair amount of sympathy among conservatives: piracy.
Copying and disseminating pirated material is a serious problem for the movie industry. (In fact a Senate Judiciary hearing is slated to be held this week to discuss existing problems with the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.) To put it into context, in the month of January 2013, there were 432 million unique Internet users worldwide who sought infringed content! And this, despite the fact that there are more than 400 different online services around the globe – 95 available in the United States – to access TV shows and full-length films legally.
But the threat of piracy is an issue a lot of Americans can relate to because for many it hits close to home. Take, for instance, my husband who owns his own business. Before he secures a new client, he has to invest a lot of resources: travel, meetings, preliminary research, extensive proposals, graphic design work, contracts, etc. Once a client officially engages in a project he invests still more resources in staff hours, computers, and outsourced services. For the most part, it’s not until a project is completed that he reaps (some of) the reward of his hard work. If someone then tried to take his finished product and give it to another (unpaying) interested party, it would be devastating to his business and to the people he employs.
The fact is it’s not much different in the movie industry. There are endless outlays – scouting, casting, contracts, set production, catering, advertising, to name a few – before viewers even get a glimpse of the film. And while online piracy might not change Brad Pitt’s lifestyle, it does threaten the people working behind the scenes, and ultimately will lead to higher prices at the box office.
Bottom line: conservatives deeply value private property, intellectual or otherwise. Copyright law is a critical tool that we have to encourage and protect creativity, innovation, and economic growth. And a failure to protect intellectual property rights would have a serious impact on individual Americans, businesses large and small, as well as the economy overall.
So if Hollywood wants win the hearts of conservatives, it’s apt to come from a story about hard work.